Academic Freedom and Society: A one-day conference

deadline for submissions: 
April 5, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
University of Warwick

Deadline for abstracts:

April 5 2017

Confirmed Keynote:

Prof. Bruce Gilbert (Bishop’s University, Canada)


How can the history and philosophy of academic freedom and its representations in culture inform us about current debates around the place and function of the academic in society? The university has historically been imagined as a space of free inquiry and self-governance, but debates around institutional autonomy of the university and the academic freedom of its members have existed since its inception. While academic freedom – defined as the principles of intellectual freedom, the autonomy of scholarly communities and protection from state censorship – has justified the purpose and place of the university in society, these principles have always been under negotiation with public and private constraints and interests. How has academic freedom as an ideal and a reality adapted to changing economic conditions, movements for civil rights and freedoms, and shifting state support and regulation?

This conference invites speakers to engage with this theme in historical, philosophical, and cultural contexts. How is academic freedom valued in society, and how is this value represented in different spheres of social activity? Is it true, as Dennis Hayes has suggested, that the value placed on academic freedom is bound up with the value a given society places on free speech, and that freedom of speech is an a priori requirement to the pursuit of free inquiry? Or is it that the university provides a space for critique and debate that enables ‘the mind to express itself and thus expose itself to change’, as Tony Skillen has argued? How has the idea of freedom of inquiry in the university shifted in different historical and national contexts, in times of crisis or prosperity? Are the Humanities ‘independent of the government’s command with regard to its teachings’ and ‘free to evaluate everything,’ in the manner Kant envisioned for Philosophy, or does the division of the Arts into discrete disciplines and associated ways of seeing make cross-disciplinary discourse only a repository of ethical quandaries, rather than the ground for creating a responsive and collaborative organ of thought? How do challenges of identification – gender, racialisation and sexuality – establish restrictions on academic freedom and pressures of professionalisation for early career academics? What is the responsibility academia bears towards public engagement, both historically and in the contemporary moment? Do modern universities allow time for contemplation and freedom for error, and should they?

Papers might engage with writers who have addressed the university or education, such as B. R. Ambedkar, Jacques Derrida, John Dewey, W. E. B. Du Bois, Paulo Freire, Martin Heidegger, bell hooks, R. D. Laing, D. H. Lawrence, Audre Lorde, Jacques Rancière, Hu Shih, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Rabindranath Tagore, Tao Xingzhi; experimental and/or radical education movements such as Black Mountain College in North Carolina, the New Culture movement in China, US civil rights and the American University, Decolonize the University, and the Free University movement in the UK; or current threats to academic freedom around the world. Papers are sought from philosophy, literature, film & TV, art, modern languages, history and philosophy of science, cultural studies, sociology, economics, politics, and the arts. Examples of topics could include, but are not limited to:


* Epistemology and inheritance

* Social justice and narrative

* Constraints of response

* Radical education movements

* Colonialism and the University

* Identification: sexuality, gender, racialisation

* Academic avatars: profile, production, professionalisation

* Public engagement

* Expertise and authority

* Novelty and creativity

* Teaching and learning

* Government control and cultural bias

* Labour and academia

* Interdisciplinarity: possibilities and pitfalls


Participants are invited to submit abstracts of no more than 250 words for 20-minute papers, and a 100-word biography to by April 5 2017.



Lara Choksey, PhD candidate, English and Comparative Literary Studies (Warwick)

Filip Niklas, PhD candidate, Philosophy (Warwick)


Funding:Centre for Research in Philosophy, Literature and the Arts, University of Warwick